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CITY PITTSBURGH v. DAVID DEWALD (08/19/76)

decided: August 19, 1976.

CITY OF PITTSBURGH, A MUNICIPAL CORPORATION, AND PAUL J. IMHOFF, SUPERINTENDENT OF BUREAU OF BUILDING INSPECTION
v.
DAVID DEWALD, JR. AND HELEN DEWALD, HIS WIFE, APPELLANTS. (2 CASES)



Appeals from the Order of the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County in case of City of Pittsburgh, a municipal corporation, and Paul J. Imhoff, Superintendent of the Bureau of Building Inspection v. David DeWald, Jr. and Helen DeWald, his wife, No. G.D. 75-9791.

COUNSEL

Allen N. Brunwasser, for appellants.

D. R. Pellegrini, Assistant City Solicitor, with him Mead J. Mulvihill, Jr., City Solicitor, for appellees.

President Judge Bowman and Judges Crumlish, Jr., Wilkinson, Jr., Mencer, Rogers and Blatt. Judge Kramer did not participate. Opinion by Judge Crumlish, Jr.

Author: Crumlish

[ 26 Pa. Commw. Page 152]

David DeWald and Helen, his wife, (Appellants) appeal a decree of the court of common pleas holding them both in contempt of court for failure to comply with an order directing them to cease and desist from operating a trailer park in violation of the zoning ordinance of the City of Pittsburgh.

Pivotal to our decision in this matter is the question of whether Appellants were guilty of criminal or civil contempt. One is guilty of contempt of court if his conduct tends to bring into disrespect the authority or administration of the law by a court. While conduct which is an affront to the dignity and authority of the court constitutes criminal contempt, the demarcation between an affront and the failure of a party to obey an order of the court in a civil action

[ 26 Pa. Commw. Page 153]

    for the benefit of the other party, which is civil contempt, is cloudy. Casella v. Pearce, 447 Pa. 515, 291 A.2d 101 (1972). In determining on which side of the line the contempt proceeding falls, one must look to the purpose of the proceeding, not the result. If the purpose is to vindicate the dignity and authority of the court and to protect the interest of the public, the proceeding is criminal. If, however, the contempt developed from disobeying an order, the proceeding to enforce compliance with that court order is civil. See Knaus v. Knaus, 387 Pa. 370, 127 A.2d 669 (1956).

Appellants contend the contempt order was punishment for criminal contempt, and exceeded the statutory limitations governing such punishment. We disagree. This was civil contempt. "The purpose of a civil contempt proceeding is remedial, and judicial sanctions are employed (1) to coerce the defendants into compliance with the court's order, and (2) in some instances to compensate the complainant for losses sustained." Knaus, supra, 387 Pa. at 377, 127 A.2d at 672.

The late Chief Justice Bell noted this test when he wrote:

"[T]hese legal principles have been iterated and reaffirmed on numerous occasions by the United States Supreme Court. In the recent case of Shillitani v. United States, 384 U.S. 364, the Court said [citations omitted]: 'It is not the fact of punishment but rather its character and purpose that often serve to distinguish' civil from criminal contempt. [Citation omitted.] . . . The conditional nature of the imprisonment -- based entirely upon the contemnor's continued defiance -- justifies holding civil contempt proceedings absent the safeguards of indictment and jury ...


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